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The Benefits of A Mini-Retirement (And How You Can Take One)

When I was studying for my Master’s in Business, I had a brutal schedule, even for a student. Instead of taking time off from a clothing store company I had launched, I fit in studying, classes and networking events in between my efforts to grow the business. It led to three years of working more than 120 hours a week, in order to fit it all in my schedule.

At 23, and newly-graduated, I had already reached burnout. I decided to step away from the business for two weeks to travel to Miami. I had spent the previous year developing a system so I no longer needed to be in the office to run the company. As soon as those two weeks were over, though, I realized they weren’t enough. It sent me along an unbelievable journey, where I took half-a-year off of work to travel and reconnect with what I loved to do. I, essentially, retired for six, life-changing months.

In my work as a financial advisor, I’ve noticed that it can often take someone two years or more to adjust to retirement life. Going from the grind to suddenly having the freedom to do whatever you want, can create fear, trepidation, boredom or listlessness. What I realized in that six months is that everyone should take significant time off from their job, no matter their age, so they can learn what they love to do, before being forced into it later in life. As you continue to work under the constraints of Covid, now's a great time to prepare for when you can travel freely again.

While it seems impossible, there are significant benefits to doing so.

You Define Yourself Beyond Work

Our identities are often so tied to our work that we can feel lost without the day job. When you take a mini-retirement you no longer can allow work to dominate your conversations. You lose the ability to fall back into patterns of defining yourself by your work goals.

This can create a problem. Without the confines of work, it’s freeing. But you also must learn what will define you.

In a foreign country, where you’re traveling over a period of weeks or months, no one cares what you did at home. For me, this meant no one cared about my degrees or my retail stores.

Instead, you start to define yourself in the context of the situation you are in. You are not your work; you are the person that’s good at picking restaurants. Or you’re the one known for telling great stories. It is truly terrifying to lose your ‘work identity.’ But when you do lose it, you are required to view yourself as the totality of who you are, beyond your money or your title. You need to effectively distill yourself into the sum of your interests and skills.

Understanding all that you offer, doesn’t just make you a more well-rounded person, it also opens your eyes to all the different things you can accomplish and do.

You Find What Really Interests You

When I hit my mini-retirement, one of the first things I planned to learn was the guitar. Much to my dismay, I realized that entry level guitar playing was not a time-consuming activity. I could play at most 30 minutes per session and usually my fingertips hurt too much to play on back-to-back days. Great hobby, but you can’t plan a day around it.

Next, I decided to travel to a beach destination and read all day in the sun. Reading on a beach is an ideal activity for a vacation, but it is not a lifestyle. A few books in and I needed a new plan. I soon realized many of my hobbies and interests either didn’t fill my new 16-hour unscheduled day or had diminishing benefits over time (i.e. I did not enjoy the activity as much as I thought I would). I soon realized that what I really loved and missed doing was playing competitive hockey. I didn’t know it about myself, but when I had free time without a concern for the clock, it freed me to recognize where my passions really lay.

This process of trial and error not only helps you plan your retired life but it helps you define your working career as well. When you have a better understanding of what activities you enjoy then you can dedicate your free time to those pursuits, leaving you happier before the work week begins again.

You Reconnect With Family And Friends

Everyone is enamoured with the concept of retirement. You no longer work and you get to do the things you love when you want. This all happens at some future date and it’s extremely self-focused. A mini-retirement allows you time to go spend with friends and family that live far away. It gives you the ability to spend time with your parents and grandparents while they are alive and active. It gives your friends the chance to see that you will give them priority over other things.

Because of my time off, I have now developed the reputation as the friend that comes to you, if you need something or just want to hang out. It’s not because it’s easier for me, but because I know the value of putting in that effort. I learned to make the extra effort for friends and family during this first sabbatical.

Prior to my mini-retirement, I put so much effort into my job and studies, I had forgotten how much I cared about the people around me. Now, I value my relationships on a deeper level and make a point of putting in the effort.

It’s a good lesson, even when I’m back in the office, dealing with long days again.

How You Can Take A Mini-Retirement

I’m sure you’re probably thinking, “Of course I want to take a vacation for half the year, but I can’t.” And not just because of Covid, but because you can’t get away. It turns out, this is a great time to plan for life after Covid, which can include a mini-retirement with the right preparation. It’s not nearly as difficult as it sounds. Remember, most entrepreneurs in my position would have said, “I can’t leave, I have a company to run.” But I found a way because I knew it would help me down the line.

Here are some things to think about as you try to engineer your own mini-retirement.

  • Pick a length: I recommend six months to two years. It needs to be long enough that you are forced out of your comfort zone and past the point of keeping busy. But you also have to evaluate how much money you have saved, in order to afford not working.
  • Save money: You need living expenses for the entire period of time you aren’t working, plus extra for activities and a cushion for the time it takes you to get back to work. I would also suggest adding some extra funds for when you get bored and over spend (this will happen).
  • Plan your activities: Have a schedule in place, so you don’t get caught watching Netflix all day, only to realize at night, you’re still wearing the clothes you woke up in. Nothing will kill a mini-retirement faster than an empty calendar. You’ll burn through your six month allocation within a month, so don’t start light and don’t worry if you’re unsure about certain activities. You now have the chance to try and fail.
  • Leave the workforce: Plan to quit. If you’re a business owner, hire a manager you trust to run the business, and give yourself some time to work with him or her in place, prior to leaving the business behind. If you work at an office, see if the company offers sabbaticals. If not, give your manager time to prepare before stepping away. Part of a mini-retirement is planning to return to work, so your exit should open more doors than it closes.
  • Plan your eventual return to the workforce: If you’ve taken a sabbatical, then you’re in a good place. If not, make sure to update your resume and try to network during your time off. It may open more doors than you even thought about, before taking a break. And don’t worry about the time-off. If hiring managers ask about it, you have an interesting story to tell that will help you stand out from other applicants.

My first mini-retirement completely changed my life, which is why I try to take one every five years. You can incorporate these mini-retirements within your 25-year goal planning. Taking these breaks work as a tactical way to improve the clarity of the goal you will set in that planning process. If you feel like you need a change in your life, then the sabbatical could just be the boost your career needs.

By Timm McLean, MBA |
CEO at WLTH

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